Two years ago, Immigrant Food opened up less than a block away from the White House, with the goal of inviting the public to support immigrant advocacy. On October 7, the team behind this “cause-casual” concept expanded its efforts by opening a more upscale dining concept, Immigrant Food+, at D.C.’s Planet Word Museum.
About a year ago, Planet Word approached cofounders Enrique Limardo (who is also the executive chef), Peter Schechter and Téa Ivanovic with interest in collaborating following the success of the original Immigrant Food location. The restaurants-within-museums concept isn’t new, but the visionary team believes that nothing quite as synergistic as this one exists in the category.
“[Planet Word] is a museum of language—how language has influenced culture, how it affects us and how different words and different cultures have created the language that we speak now, and Immigrant Food celebrates and advocates on behalf of immigrants,” says Ivanovic, who is also Immigrant Food’s COO. “When they reached out, we thought it was a perfect partnership.”
The new Immigrant Food+ restaurant welcomes the opportunity to do some educating of its own. It maintains many of the same features as the original establishment, like the fact that visitors can donate directly to any of the restaurant’s immigrant-focused impact partners while they dine. But at Immigrant Food+, the casual fusion bowl lunch venue turns into an elegant dining experience during dinner hours. Menu highlights, all curated by chef Limardo and chef Mileyda Montezuma, include an international dim sum tasting as well as special nods to Planet Word, like an alphabet soup and a chocolate globe dessert that replicates the art piece displayed in the museum.
To complement the restaurant’s eclectic food, a curated playlist of songs from across the world is on constant rotation. The team also worked with Michelle Bove and Sommer Moore of DesignCase (the same company behind the first location), to design Immigrant Food+’s three rooms, which include an intimate space that will be used for private events. A standout is the restaurant’s bar in the main dining area, which features a translucent countertop with book covers of works written by immigrant authors, handwritten letters from immigrants (sourced from various places including the Ellis Island Museum) and the word “home” written in 27 different languages.
“This place is much more about how immigrants have influenced our culture,” says Ivanovic. “We wanted to come up with a collection of things that, as much as possible, represent the diversity that is America. It really does take you on an experience around the world.”
This unique experience also extends to the beverage offerings. The team deemed Morgan Raelin the perfect fit to craft the beverage menu—one of Raelin’s specialties is creating drinks inspired by people. This was a project Raelin says was very special. Her specialty cocktail menu comprises seven different drinks, each representing a prominent person from each continent. An example is the North American-inspired cocktail “Beloved,” a bright and fruity rye-based drink with peach, grapefruit, and mint flavors, a tribute to Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize novelist Tony Morrison.
“This is the first time I’ve done an entire menu,” says Raelin. “I did a lot of research—it was basically building the flavors to match the continent and then finding a figure that was inspirational enough to encompass the whole continent.”
Plans for the Immigrant Food brand are ever-evolving. During the pandemic, the team partnered with World Central Kitchen and local D.C. nonprofit Martha’s Table to feed thousands of locals. And their ongoing initiative “Plate It Forward,” which invites customers to donate food distributed to NGO partners such as Ayuda and the CAIR Coalition, will be ramping up special programming tied to National Immigrants Day (on October 28) and Giving Tuesday (on November 30).
In the coming months, the team also hopes to prioritize live events, like cooking classes, at its new location. The need to celebrate immigrant advocacy isn’t going anywhere—and the Immigrant Food team wants to be at the forefront of finding innovative ways to make this mission a thriving movement.
“People see us as this social justice-committed restaurant that serves great food, and we’re really pleased the brand somehow continues to grow,” says Schechter. “You gotta evolve, right?”